U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) “wants NASCAR to pass on NRA’s race sponsorship” of the April Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway, according to Kevin Robillard of POLITICO. Murphy sent a letter on Thursday to NASCAR Chair & CEO Brian France that asks the league to "drop" the sponsorship. The letter read in part, “NASCAR has crossed a line -- you have decided to put yourself in the middle of a political debate, and you have taken a side that stands in opposition to the wishes of so many Newtown families who support common sense gun reform. Whether or not this was your intention, your fans will infer from this sponsorship that NASCAR and the NRA are allies in the current legislative debate over gun violence. By announcing this new partnership at the very height of Congress’s deliberations over gun reform, NASCAR has inserted itself into a political debate that has nothing to with the business of NASCAR” (POLITICO.com, 3/7). TIME.com’s Bill Saporito wrote businesses are “always being squeezed by the twin pressures of creating new customers while not alienating the ones they have.” That is “certainly been true of NASCAR, which has been trying to diversify its fan base beyond the aging white males who now constitute its largest audience segment.” In signing the NRA deal, NASCAR is “feeding its base.” The NRA and NASCAR are “a natural socio-political fit given the sport’s demographics.” NRA Exec VP Wayne LaPierre is “a NASCAR groupie” and NRA members are a “hardly an untapped audience.” But the "more basic issue" facing SMI Chair & CEO Bruton Smith, whose company owns TMS, is that NASCAR “isn’t politics but finance.” While Smith “is a Republican, he may be as much practical businessman as doctrinaire believer.” Since last year’s race sponsor, Samsung Mobile, “didn’t re-up, when the NRA stepped up Smith took the money” (TIME.com, 3/7).
EARNHARDT SURPRISED BY DEAL: Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he “thought the timing was strange” for the NRA's deal, but noted, "It is Texas." Earnhardt said, “The race track in Texas has always been a bit cutting edge and they’ve always been in that realm of being edgy and taking a lot of risks. So I’m not going to tell them how to run their business, and I’ve always enjoyed racing there.” But he noted that he “had the same reaction a lot of people did” upon hearing of the sponsorship (“The Crossover,” NBC Sports Network, 3/7).
THEIR TWO CENTS: FOXSPORTS.com’s Jason Whitlock wrote he does not blame NASCAR or TMS "for accepting the NRA’s money." The people inside TMS who might disagree with the NRA "will have more than enough sense to keep their opinions private -- and the controversy might help NASCAR’s TV ratings.” But he wrote the deal is a "sign of trouble for LaPierre.” Whitlock: “I see it as a ray of hope that the NRA is badly losing its public relations battle with the sensible people who want to enact laws that make it more difficult for criminals and mentally disturbed people to buy guns” (FOXSPORTS.com, 3/7). In Jacksonville, Justin Barney asks does the NRA’s sponsorship “really tilt the scales of decency?” The deal is “business,” and regardless of “what you hear and read to the contrary, that’s all this agreement is.” Barney: “It’s business. Stop trying to make it more than that” (JACKSONVILLE.com, 3/8).
Big League Chew this summer will debut national packaging featuring Dodgers CF Matt Kemp instead of the "cartoon characters that have existed on more than 500 million pouches since Big League Chew first hit shelves 33 years ago,” according to Darren Rovell of ESPN.com. Kemp's image, which does not include the Dodgers' name or logo on his jersey or cap, "will adorn the front of the gum package" beginning in June. The brand through a partnership with PLB Sports “also has signed” Phillies P Cole Hamels. PLB Sports “secured the players' deals and, like most of the products it sells, linked up a charity component.” Some proceeds from Kemp's "cut of the deal ... will go to Kemp's Kids,” an inner-city baseball charity. The gum pouches "will be sold at the usual retail price, which ranges from $1 to $1.99, depending on the outlet.” Rovell noted aside from a “brief period of time when the brand had a marketing deal with the MLB Players Alumni Association and retired players appeared on pouches, most of the packaging has featured the work” of artist Bill Mayer (ESPN.com, 3/6).
adidas is “catching up” with Nike in the “race to be China's top sportswear company,” according to Laurie Burkitt of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. adidas “reported a 12% rise in fourth-quarter China sales for a 27% climb during the full year." That comes amid a "China sales slump at U.S.-based Nike and continuing problems for China's homegrown Li Ning brand.” Key to the company’s strategy is “widening the Adidas brand in China beyond shoes and sweats.” It is “shaking up its retail outlets so that individual stores focus on specific niches ranging from basketball and other athletic apparel to teen and casual wear.” adidas Group Greater China Division Managing Dir Colin Currie said that in the “next two years the company will roll out more segmented shops in its 7,000 China-based stores, offering specialized products to attract the backpacking crowd and even fashion divas.” Market-research firm Euromonitor Int'l found that adidas “now holds an 11.2% share" of China's $23.8B sportswear market, while Nike has 12.1%. Nike has “long dominated China” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 3/8). The FINANCIAL TIMES’ Patti Waldmeir notes the “goal is to have 1,400 cities buying Adidas by 2015.” Currie said that China’s “smaller cities still have plenty to give.” He added that consumers in "lower-tier cities have a lot more time to participate in activities that do not cost a lot, like running” (FT.com, 3/8).
Venus Williams' Fall '13 collection of her EleVen activewear line features a “varied collection ranging from the traditional -- a striking white Wimbledon dress with ‘power mesh’ insert panel on the back -- to the dramatic -- a black U.S. Open dress popping with a bright floral print -- to the playful pink python print dress she'll wear during the summer U.S. Open Series,” according to Richard Pagliaro of TENNIS.com. Most pieces feature “primary themes, including the bold floral print and pink python print, which are incorporated in tanks, skirts, skorts, shorts and jackets.” The new collection “ships on July 15 and will be available through major on-line retailers.” She said of the U.S. Open dress, “I felt the florals on dark background would be interesting. More importantly is the mesh, which occurs throughout the collection and I think really brings it back to the court. It also gives the ability to mix and match it with other core pieces.” She said of her designs, “It's about style meeting performance. It's about challenging the status quo of active wear. It's about making clothes for people living fulfilled lives that involve movement and fitness. I think about all of those things. I try to figure out: How do I put all of that into the clothes? How can I help people to feel their best? I hope we're getting closer and closer to that perfect EleVen with this collection.” Williams said she used to design her Grand Slam outfits "kind of by the feeling I had" for the various host cities. But she said, "Now I don't. I design by what I feel inside and my vision of the design and what I think will be comfortable on people” (TENNIS.com, 3/6). She added, "When we are designing, I am narrowing down which ones I'm wearing. I have got to plan ahead. ... The retailers want to know right away which ones I'll be wearing" (AP, 3/5).
Gonzaga Associate AD/External Operations Kris Kassel said that the men’s basketball team reaching the No. 1 ranking in both polls “has been good to the school at retail.” ESPN.com’s Darren Rovell reported that this season there are “about 1,200 more Gonzaga items at retail versus last season, and the team's success has led to a 50 percent increase in March Madness artwork submitted by potential licensees.” The school “sold 2,300 No. 1 T-shirts in the 24 hours after Gonzaga achieved the ranking” on Monday. Kassel said that sales for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were “each equivalent to a month of average in-season sales” (ESPN.com, 3/7).
PINK IS THE NEW YELLOW:AriZona Beverages has added pink lemonade to Jack Nicklaus’ Golden Bear drink line. Golden Bear Pink Lemonade’s packaging includes a portrait of Nicklaus following his ’78 British Open victory as well as 20 images of his children and grandchildren. The packaging also includes other professional and personal moments from his career (AriZona Beverages).
STARK REALITY: ESPN’s Charissa Thompson reported Heat F LeBron James “commissioned sneaker designers Mache Customs to create a special 'Iron Man' edition of his Nike LeBron X.” ESPN’s Marcellus Wiley said of the shoes, “Those are sweet. I don’t know what you’re supposed to wear with them, maybe just come out with just a T-shirt and those on. Those are pretty sweet” (“SportsNation,” ESPN2, 3/7).
ROUNDUP: adidas announced that Elegant Sports will be its new gymnastics licensee for this year, and is tasked with growing the gymnastics brand worldwide. adidas Gymnastics also signed U.S. national team members Jake Dalton and Jordyn Wieber to sponsorship deals (adidas)….Coors Light will be the exclusive presenting sponsor for the Sportsnet's “Hockey Central” trade deadline coverage on April 3 (Sportsnet)….Butler has signed a “three-year agreement naming PNC Bank as the official bank sponsor” of the school’s athletic programs (TWITTER.com, 3/7).